Paul Kusuda’s column
Teenage Meandering in LA, 1930s
Paul H. Kusuda
Occasionally, we’d do things we didn’t want our parents to know about. We’d stop in at a church that had a soup kitchen
going at lunch time. Homeless or jobless men, and sometimes women, would stand in line until the doors opened for the
free lunch program. Frank and I would get into the line and follow the people in. The program was usually sponsored by
Aimee Semple McPhereson or Father Divine, and before bowls were distributed, all present had to listen to a sermon-like
presentation followed by a prayer. After we all muttered “Amen,” we each got a bowl of soup and some bread. Frank and I
thought it was great and kind of fun joining in with the adults, but we knew better than to tell our parents. We were on the
dumb side, but not that dumb.
We had other lunches. Once in awhile, we’d ask Frank’s older brother George to fix some sandwiches. Sometimes, we got
peanut butter and jam sandwiches. Other times we really lucked out, and George would open a can of tuna, cut up an
onion, and fry the tuna. As sandwich filler, it was a true luxury. When we got desperate, Frank and I would go to our place
and each get about four or five slices of white bread, usually Wonder Bread. We’d eat around the edges of each slice and
then squish the centers into a bread ball. Then, we’d each pony up a nickel, go to the nearby Kroger grocery store, and buy
a chunk of bologna. The butcher always gave us more than we paid for; about a quarter pound. Anyway, we’d cut the piece
in two, the non-cutter getting to choose which half to take. (In those days, every kid had a pocket knife to use primarily for
games such as mumblety peg or cut-the-pie.) What a delicious lunch, smashed-up bread center in one hand and a chunk
of bologna in the other. Probably, it was not really nutritious but fun to eat, and it tasted good.
Though 13 or 14, Frank and I also got jobs; they didn’t pay much, but we didn’t mind too much. One was to deliver movie
fliers throughout a designated geographic area. For doing that, we each got a free ticket for a local movie house.
Admission was a dime for those who paid, but each one got a free popsicle. Lucky ones found when they finished eating
the popsicle a coin in a cellophane bag attached to the stick. The coin was a penny, nickel, or dime. So, some kids got
extra money to spend. I was lucky once and wound up with a dime! Imagine that—I got in for nothing and became a dime
ahead. Another job we found didn’t pay much, but Frank and I had reason to explore areas new to us and in a fairly rich
neighborhood. We put 4” by 6” cards on the driver’s side front windows of cars that looked expensive. The cards advertised
By Paul H. Kusuda
Wandering around Westside Los Angeles at age 13 or 14 was a usual pastime on Saturdays.
Frank Mishima, who lived a couple of blocks away from us, and I used to wander aimlessly
about a mile or three radius from where we lived. Frank was about a year older than I, but we got
along well. Sometimes, he’d bring his year younger brother Jim, but generally, we left him
In the late 1930s , we were still in the middle of the Great Depression, but Frank and I were
almost oblivious of its effect though quite aware that our families were not rich, just getting by. In
Spring, we attended Auto Shows when new automobile models were displayed at many sites.
Of course, we were too young to drive, but we had fun picking up souvenirs like key chains and
advertising buttons, eating free cookies and cake samples, and drinking free cups of pop. For
some reason, no one objected to kids nosing about and looking at new model cars even
though no parent was present. It’s a lot different nowadays. In fact, these days, adults who dress
sloppily do not get any attention from sales persons at auto sales places.
a beauty salon and on one corner had a
number that identified who distributed it.
We were paid a quarter for each card that
was turned in. Women who used a card
received an introductory offer. We were
never sure about how many cards were
turned in, but we distributed lots of them.
There was no thought of minimum pay, no
suspicion that we would not be fairly
Life was simple then, but interesting. We
observed a lot, sometimes more than we
wanted, but worth talking about and
sometimes telling our siblings. Once, a
gaudily-made-up woman asked us if we
wanted to party. That scared us, so we ran.
Talk about not knowing what was what!
We were such innocent kids that one time,
Frank and I decided that when we reached
the age of 30 (that seemed like an old
age), we’d figure out how much we each
had, pool our money, and then divide it so
that each of us would have the same
amount. Such innocence, such altruism,
such dumbness! But then, we had few
worries and lots of fun. Good old days! No
politics, no wars (that was between WW I
and II). Good old days!!